by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Master Chorale concertgoers were introduced to this lovely carol-like Jesus Christ the Apple Tree last season by the American Boy Choir. Its folk-style simplicity is summarized, after comparing Christ's spiritual fruitfulness to the abundance of nature's gifts, with the words "His beauty doth all excel."
Cutter's Fanfare elaborates, with its four flourishing trumpets, the familiar carol Good Christians All Rejoice, set to that ancient and famed medieval melody In dulci jubilo.
Puer natus est nobis serves as the Entrance Antiphon for the Third or Daytime Mass for Christmas. Its most beautiful chant melody gives exquisite expression to Isaiah's ever seasonal words, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given."
St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice, constructed in the form of a Greek cross, had organs in the lofts of each of its transepts. The Gabrieli's uncle and nephew, capitalizing on this arrangement, produced antiphonal music of unparalleled splendor and brilliance. Jubilate Deo, Psalm 99, presents two choruses, one high-voiced of two soprano, one alto and one tenor part opposed to a low-voiced antiphonal group of alto, tenor and two bass parts.
The melody for Joseph Iieber, Joseph mein emerged from the musical treasures of Leipzig University about 1500, as part of a medieval mystery play. Eminent Renaissance composers such as De Lasso, Handl, Praetorius and Schutz produced lastingly attractive arrangements. Calvisius, a Saxon composer and friend of Kepler and Praetorius, arranged this chorale tune for six-part chorus. "My loving Joseph, guard this Child. All things announced by Gabriel have been fulfilled. God has shown his clemency when Mary birthed His Son."
An estampie is a medieval troubador dance sometimes set to words in the form of a round or rondeau, with choral parts of increasing complexity. In his Estampie Natalis Nelhybel has taken the chant Puer natus in Bethlehem (A Child is born in Bethlehem) as the melodic material for this energetic salute to the joys of Christmas.
John Rutter's Gloria has achieved widespread acclaim since its premier performance by the Voices of Mel Olson in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 5, 1974. Rutter has readily acknowledged the influence that American choral singing has exercised on him. He notes that Gloria "was written with the sound of American choral singing in mind. That's to say a rather rich, full sound, punchy attack, and wholly different philosophy of singing. There is a lot of fast moving intricate writing in the Gloria which really would not work in an English cathedral due to their very long reverberation time ...”
Scored for mixed chorus, a small treble group, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion and organ, the first movement exhibits a strong and intricate rhythmic impulse, the second reflects quiet meditative and tranquil devotion, while the third resumes a highly rhythmic and "punchy'' character of contrapuntal intensity leading to a triumphant and exuberant conclusion.
One of the most popular of carols among the English, God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen boasts two magnificent tunes. The more familiar second one was sung broadcast through the streets of London. It now receives a fantasy arrangement from the late and accomplished Mark Riese. The carol's initial words mean "God keep you, merry Gentlemen."
The famed Christmas folk carol melody Lo! How a Rose e'er Blooming emerged in the 15th century from the diocese of Trier in Western Germany. It attracted numerous poetic versions and appeared subsequently in many Catholic songbooks. While Praetorius' setting of 1609 remains the most familiar, the melody has stimulated other composers, among them the talented and late Don A. Crandall. In medieval iconography, Jesse's tree was symbolized as a rose bush, productive of its most beautiful flower, Mary.
O Come, Little Children, an original German Christmas song to words of Johann von Schmidt, was composed by Johann Schulz (1747-1800). Its ingratiating children's melody here receives a delightful arrangement by the well-known James Fritschel, recently emeritus at California Lutheran University.
The master American arranger Stephen Paulus provides the old Bohemian carol The Angels and the Shepherds with a charming chorus accompanied by flutes and handbells or piano.
Regney and Shayne's exceedingly popular modern carol Do You Hear What I Hear, finds expansive and exciting expression in its male chorus arrangement produced by Harry Simeone, longtime associate of the late Fred Waring.
The Jewish festival of Dedication (Chanukah), often called the Feast of Lights, commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 B.C. after the great Judas Maccabeus defeated its desecrator, the Selucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanies. The aspect of candle lighting recalls the Talmud's story of the miraculous and non-diminishing supply of consecrated oil which kept the temple lamp burning for 8 days. As celebrated today the 8-day period, held at varying times but generally in December, involves the lighting of ceremonial candles, exchange of gifts, and holiday games.
Samuel Adler (1928 - ) has achieved widespread distinction as a music teacher, performer and composer/arranger with over 200 published works to his credit. Of the four selected songs from his repertoire sung this evening, "The light we have kindled" and "Who can retell" are sung by women's chorus, the "Light up the night" by men's chorus, and "Rock of Ages" by mixed chorus, graciously so arranged for this concert by Mr. Adler.
The Ukranian musicologist Mykola Leontovych (1877-1921) unearthed and established correct editions of his native folksong polyphony. Peter Wilhousky furnishes what has come to be the almost standard modern choral setting of The Carol of the Bells.
Published in 1842 to the tune of Ma Mere, Maries Moi, this sprightly carol Patapan uses words found in Bernard de Ia Monmoye's (1641-1728) Burgundian Noels.
The Welsh New Year's Eve secular carol Nos Galan in its original form celebrated "now the joyful bells are ringing, all ye Mountains praise the Lord." "Translated" with its more familiar words Deck the Halls, John Rutter has again given us another of his ever enjoyable settings.
Carter's Mistletoe Carol was commissioned by the Sheffield Girls' Choir. It joyfully celebrates all the secular aspects of the Christmas celebration: trees, woolen gloves, frosty breath, snowball fights and even carol singers out of tune.
Go Tell it on the Mountain's tune exists in several variant versions. The respected African American composer/arranger John W. Work, Jr. (1871 -1925) derived the melody from folk materials. Here presented is an exciting and virtuoso rendition in gospel-jazz style by the well-known Southern California composer Paul Sjolund.
The French carol II est né first appeared in Dom Legeay's Noel anciens of 1876. Its melody is derived from an 18th century rustic hunting tune "Tête bis arde." Berkey notes that his arrangement is loosely based on the style of Ravel's Boltro, while preserving French lingual traits often lost in translation and in its melodic arrangement, approximating the old hunting tune.
The Lamb is a delicately wrought and meditative choral song setting of the words of the famed 17th century English "metaphysical" poet William Blake here set to music by former Master Chorale member Ken Neufeld.
Most familiar and best loved of all Christmas carols, Silent Night, of Mohr and Gruber, mythically arose in an original guitar version due to the fact that the village church organ had broken down before Midnight Mass. In fact no such thing happened and musicologists note that what Mohr and Gruber did was quite standard procedure, to utilize Austrian folk melodies in the elaboration of their music whether for Christmas or other festivals. Silent Night was inspired by Austrian cradle and shepherd songs and endowed with Schubertian charm.
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year presents a lively and secular celebratory carol similar in spirit to the foregoing Mistletoe Carol.